Saturday, October 29, 2011

My formal apology

Travel is so paradoxical at times. I've been out of America for well over a year now. Although it's gone by in the blink of an eye, I feel as if I've been gone for a lifetime. I'm two weeks away from my own bed and time seems to be moving at a glacial speed.

Then I start to think of everything I've missed while I've been away... Concerts, baseball games, celebrations, mournings, engagements, weddings, births, deaths, funerals, reunions, holidays. And truth be told, I feel incredibly selfish for leaving everyone at home.

After I said goodbye to Liana today, I was so sad. Then I went online and saw the Cardinals won the World Series and I felt alone for the first time in a long time. As pathetic as it sounds, I sat and cried in the middle of the airport as a rush of emotions went through me.

But then I started to think of what I experienced over the past 14 months. The people I met, the things I saw and the memories I made. I wouldn't trade it for anything.

I'm so incredibly grateful for everything I've seen, but I also realize I have so much to look forward to when I get home; it's a bit overwhelming. I'm so fortunate for all the experiences I've had abroad, but perhaps I've even more fortunate to return home to such amazing people.

So this is my formal apology. As goofy as it sounds, and though it's doesn't make any difference, an apology to the Cardinals for missing such a remarkable season. My heart absolutely burst when I read that they won the series, but I felt such a disconnect from the team (and home) because that's all I could do... read the results. To my friends and family, anyone and everyone that I've been away from and missed the chance to say these things to in person.

I've been on an incredible path of self-discovery and finally the date to come home is within reach. Although I still have some discovering to do, both within myself and around the world, I don't think I'll be gone for such an extended period of time ever again. I can't make up for my absence, but I can promise that I will do my best to never miss these opportunities again.

Go Cardinals!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Just one more stop

What an exciting few weeks it's been! Liana and I had such an awesome time on Koh Phangan. I highly recommend the island to anyone visiting the south. We didn't do much other than eat, relax, read and lay by the beach- but I think that's exactly how it was supposed to be. We ditched our bikes a few days early after we realized a good portion of the island is quite hilly, but we had a lot of fun when we didn't have to push them up steep mini mountains.

We had some change in plans, so instead of visiting Koh Samui we came back to Bangkok. I didn't mind though, I think I belong in big cities.

In an effort to avoid the flooding around Bangkok and possible flight cancellations, we rearranged schedules. Liana, sadly, will be flying back to New York tomorrow and I'll miss my travel companion dearly (though I already promised a visit sometime around Christmas). Although we haven't seen dramatic floods here in Bangkok and this area hasn't been affected like other parts of the country, we heard the worst is yet to come and the city may be hit hard. Instead of staying in Thailand until I leave for Rome, I decided to fly to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia! This way, I avoid a long layover, fees for extending my visa here in Thailand and possibly being stranded.

This will be my first solo adventure! I've always had a friend, and often times multiple friends, when I explore new cities. But I admit, I'm a little excited to experience it for the first time.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Southern Thailand

Out of all the places I've traveled, Thailand is one of my favorites, right up there with Hong Kong and Italy. There's just something so irresistible about Bangkok. The atmospheres of Khaosan and Rambutri roads are intoxicating. Southern Thailand has some of the most beautiful scenery I've ever laid eyes upon; literally a postcard at every turn. Northern Thailand provided me with a once in a lifetime opportunity to explore the jungle, dine with natives and trek with elephants. I love it here, plain and simple.

Liana and I arrived in Kho Phangan yesterday to what we thought would be yet another rainy day. But the rain dried up and we've had two days of remarkably sunny skies.

The two of us also went a bit rogue on this leg of the trip. We both purchased backpacks about a third the size of the ones we've been carrying. We took half our belongings with us and kept the rest in a locker in Bangkok. Then as soon as we arrived on the island we rented bicycles that we'll use as our main form of transportation for the next 10 days (this has proved to be just a bit troublesome since you drive on the left side here, but we manage). I absolutely love it, biking to and from our resort, marts, restaurants. I could live this lifestyle forever, I think (but don't worry mom I won't).

We will also be attending the half moon festival tonight. This island has a fairly famous full moon party once a month, but since I'll be in Italy this time around, we figure the half moon party should suffice.

After we spend 10 days biking around this gorgeous island, we're taking a ferry to Koh Samui to meet with Melissa again and celebrate Halloween. Any suggestions for costumes are welcome!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Muggings, oh my!

Hello, all! As the title of this post indicates, Liana and I ran into a bit of trouble in Cambodia. (Which, by the way, several travelers we encountered on this trip seemed to have. If traveling there in the future, just be aware of your belongings at all times!)

On our second day in Phnom Penh, Liana and I volunteered at an orphanage. We brought them rice and spent an afternoon getting to know the children, playing games with them and drawing "tattoos" on each other. They were all wonderful.

After leaving, we thought it would be nice to explore to city so we stopped at the Royal Palace. Upon arriving, our exit was blocked by several people trying to sell us water, books, and other trinkets (something else that is common throughout all of Southeast Asia). Instead of getting out of the tuk tuk to pay the driver, we paid while sitting down. After taking out my wallet to pay, I zipped up my bag and set it on my lap. Within what felt like a nanosecond, my bag was gone. A scooter had driven up alongside our tuk tuk and literally grabbed it from my lap. I immediately got out and let the dozens of people standing outside, including several policeman, know what had happened, but they just gave lackadaisical stares as if I was asking them to send me to the moon, not chase after the thieves. Needless to say, my bag was gone forever.

Fortunately (very fortunately,) my wallet was in my hand and not in my bag. I still have my credit cards, passport and iPod. All that was lost was my camera and photos. It could have been worse, certainly could have been better. But my lesson is learned.

So now we are in Bangkok again! And what a welcome feeling it is to be here again. I am absolutely in love with this city. If you ever consider a trip to Asia, come to Thailand.

Liana and I are headed south tomorrow. Instead of trying to see several islands in the remaining two weeks, we decided to visit and explore one or two. Tomorrow we will be on our way to Koh Phangan, and to say I'm excited is an understatement.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Phnom Penh

After visiting the "killing fields" today, I'm not sure I'll ever have reason to complain again. Though I inevitably will, I think remembering this experience will put things into a very real perspective.

Liana and I started the day with a tuk tuk ride to the so-called killing fields. I chatted with our driver, Chuk, and he told me about his life. That his grandfather and father were safe from the genocide because they were farmers deep in the countryside, but I think they were few of the very fortunate.

I'm not a history buff, so I apologize if I get any information wrong. It might even be useful to google the Cambodian genocide if you're looking for specifics. I can just give a cliff notes run down of what I learned about today.

The entire genocide was due in large part to one man, Pol Pot. I had heard the name before, but after today he will always be synonymous with evil.

Pol Pot was an educated man who studied in France and became a teacher in Cambodia. When he came into power, his reign of terror began. As I understood it, he believed those who worked in the fields, or the "old people" as they were referred, should thrive and lead. While city dwellers and educated people, also known as the "new people," were selfish and corrupt. After some time, the new people were driven out of the cities and killed.

From 1975 to 1979 (just about 3 years and 8 months), 3 million Cambodians were killed. 3 million out of a population of 8 million. That is the equivalent of 1 out of every 4 people being murdered. Think about the size of your family and put that into perspective.

Pol Pot became so paranoid and scared during the genocide that he began to kill everyone, including those who lived in the country. He kept murdering the educated and found reason to kill those who even "looked" smart, including people who wore glasses, spoke a second language or had soft hands.

It was so surreal to walk around the killing fields, surrounded by mass graves. Every once in a while you would look down and see a tooth or fragment of bone or even clothes that had come up from the rain. It was truly heartbreaking and horrifying.

While walking around the fields, you listened to an audio player that told back stories of prisoners and guards, as well as the tragic history of the field itself. For instance, there were a few mass graves marked where 450 victims had been found, another where 166 headless victims were found, one just for women and children.

The most disturbing part (though it was all horrific) in my opinion was the "killing tree." Here, soldiers would grab children and babies from off the ground and literally beat them against the tree and toss them into the grave alongside it. Sometimes the mother would witness the entire event, then she was murdered and put into the grave alongside her child.

This grave site was only one of thousands in Cambodia. I believe there were hundreds of execution camps, such as the one I visited, and thousands of mass graves. Some have been lost, some are too far in the jungle to find, some are surrounded by land mines. It's absolutely remarkable to see the collection of bones and cloth that were found from just one grave site. Think of all that has been left undiscovered. All those nameless victims that will never be unearthed.

After the killing fields, we visited a high school turned prison that now acts as a museum. We hired a tour guide to accompany us, a friendly woman who had been affected by the genocide. She walked us through the classrooms turned prison cells and told us her story. She had lost her husband but was reunited with her sister after many years. I admired her resiliency and amazingly unaffected view on life.

While in the museum, we saw torture rooms and prison cells virtually unchanged from when they were in use. Of the 30,000 or so people who went through, only 7 survived, one of which died only two weeks ago.

If you're wondering what happened to Pol Pot, he fled and lived out his life (I believe) in Thailand. He died in 1997 while under house arrest at the the age of 82, having seen his children and grandchildren grow up. Many other high ranking officials are still alive and awaiting trial.

To say this was a life changing experience is an understatement. I don't think I'll go on to change other people's lives, but my perspectives and priorities have certainly been set straight; I'm astonished how simple and easy my life has been. I feel so humbled and eternally grateful.

It was a bit strange to walk through the killing fields and realize how incredibly calm and peaceful it is. There is a lake that's actually quite beautiful near the graves. The birds were singing and there were so many butterflies in the high grass emerging from the place were so many were buried alive. I guess it's a small analogy of the rebuilding process Cambodia and its people are forced to go through. I admire them so much. To think, everyone has a mother, father, brother, sister, friend, friend of a friend, that has been affected by the genocide. Learning about something so tragic made life seem so fragile. I cherish it a bit more after today.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


I have arrived and quickly fallen in love with Cambodia, which seems to happen in every country.

We took an outrageously long bus ride from Ho Chi Minh City (also known as Saigon) to Siem Reap where we have been staying for the last few nights. There's so much to say about Cambodia, I don't really know where to begin.

Well, the main currency used here is US dollars which has been nice. It's hard to always convert the money in your head and it's easy to get ripped off when you can't do the conversion. It's been a welcome and familiar feeling to have those one dollar bills in my hand again. Although when you get change back it comes in Cambodian Riel which can get a bit confusing.

We came to Siem Reap first to meet up with Melissa again who had left Vietnam a little early. We've spent the last few days exploring Angkor Wat and... wow. I really can't describe the feeling of seeing it for the first time or the intricacy of every inch of carved stone or the sheer mass of it all. But I can say it's one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen and I'm eternally grateful for that experience. We explored the main temple and a few others, including one with hundreds of faces carved into the stones and the fairly famous "tree" temple, where I think (maybe) Tomb Raider was filmed.

Cambodia is full of breathtaking sights but it also has a pretty dark (and recent) past. I don't know much about the history yet, but there was a genocide that took place within the last 40 or so years. Liana and I are going back to Phnom Penh to learn about the country's troubled past. While there, we plan to visit the "killing fields" where thousands of executions took place as well as a high school turned prison (turned museum?) so we can fully educate ourselves on the topic. I'm ignorant of it all at this point, but I'm sure I will leave this country with a new appreciation for its people and all they had to endure. Liana and I also hope to volunteer at an orphanage before we leave, another humbling experience I'm sure.

Other than the paradox between beautiful world heritage sites and terrible execution camps, Cambodia is amazing. The people are incredibly kind and accommodating. It's a little strange and a bit inspiring to realize most (if not every) Cambodian you see has been affected by the genocide. Someone pointed out the fact that there are few older people here, simply for the fact that they were all killed. I think almost 50% of the population is under the age of 30. It really is remarkable.

I'm excited to spend a few more days in Cambodia before flying back into Bangkok and making our way down south for two weeks of beaches and... beaches.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Vietnam so far, Part II

Hello again from (the now sunny) Vietnam!

Out of the 15 or so days we have spent in this country, perhaps 12 or so were filled with nonstop rain. It seems that we have outrun the rain for now and we even spent the day at the beach yesterday, a welcome change from carrying our umbrellas.

Hoi An was such a great city, I'm a little disappointed the aforementioned weather put a damper on it. It rained for our first few days in the city, so we did what most people do and got clothes made. Any advice for travelers doing this in the future: take advantage of the opportunity, but consider carefully what you get made. Liana and I both thought we could get casual clothes made, but I think the specialty is tailored clothing. My stuff turned out nice, but it was more expensive than what I would usually spend on clothes and truthfully, I could have gotten it at any store for less. I think it would have been better to get a nice suit jacket or winter coat. Lesson learned!

Other than tailors, Hoi An is a delightful city. I loved riding a bike around the waterfront and exploring it all once the rain stopped. We even managed a bit of beach time there, too.

So we are in Nah Trang now and it's delightful, as well. The beach is nice and the city has a good amount to offer. Though we heard horror stories of muggings and such, so we've been extra careful.

I believe we're taking yet another overnight bus to Ho Chi Minh City (which I'm told is te craziest of all) tonight. Melissa was there before us and mentioned eating at a Subway, something Liana and I have promised to do. We will spend a few days there and we're off to Cambodia! And what we hope will be sun filled days.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Vietnam so far

We've been in Vietnam for over a week now and I can't believe how fast time has gone. I enjoyed Ha Noi but I was definitely ready to see a new city. It was chaotic which I expected, but not an organized chaos like most cities I've been to. It was hard to even walk down the street for fear of being hit by a scooter.

Our trip to Halong Bay was definitely a success. Liana celebrated her birthday in one of the most beautiful places on earth, singing karaoke with new friends from numerous countries and continents. We got to kayak, explore caves, enjoy the beach and (my favorite) watch the incredible scenery from the front of our boat.

Unfortunately, I seemed to have caught some sort of infection during my time in Halong. Upon returning to Ha Noi, I was able to visit a reputable hospital with help from Melissa and was put on antibiotics. I'm back to feeling great again after just a few days.

We are now in the city of Hue. It's much smaller but still quite nice. The people are friendlier I think, although I still think Thai people are the nicest so far.

We spent the day riding bikes around the city and exploring a citadel which we've been referring to it as the fortress of solitude. I'm actually proud the three of us made it through the entire day without getting thrown off a bike or running into a taxi.

We're taking an early bus to Hoi An tomorrow where I'm told it's easy and cheap to get clothes made. I'll look forward to having a new wardrobe for the second half of this trip.

Although I love traveling, it's sad to be out of the country this postseason. So Go Cards!!! Email me with all game and player updates, please.